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14 Rather Confusing College Terms


  1. College vs. University: Technically, colleges offer only undergraduate degrees, while universities offer graduate degrees as well. In common usage, however, the words are used interchangeably.

  2. Public vs. Private College: A public school is supported primarily by state taxpayer money (with reduced tuition for in-state students) and is operated by publicly appointed officials. The public schools in California are the University of California (UCLA, UC Berkeley, etc.) and the California State University (CSUN, San Diego State, etc.) campuses. Private schools are supported by tuition, endowments, and donations. Examples of private schools include Stanford University, USC, and Pepperdine.

  3. Liberal Arts vs. Pre-Professional Programs: Liberal Arts refers to a broad education including classes in the humanities, social sciences, natural sciences, and math. Pre-professional programs emphasize courses that lead to a particular career (for example, engineering or nursing).

  4. Undergraduate Degree: Colleges award these upon completion of a 4-year program of study (Bachelor of Arts or Bachelor of Science) or a 2-year program of study (Associate in Art or Associate in Science).

  5. Graduate Degrees: These (Master’s and Doctorates) are earned with additional years of education after a Bachelor’s degree is earned.

  6. Major: The primary field that a student is studying in order to get a degree (for example, English, Biology, Psychology). Students are required to take specific courses in order to fulfill their major requirements for a particular degree.

  7. Core Requirements or Core Curriculum or General Education Requirements or Distribution Requirements: Mandatory classes that all students at a particular school are required to complete—regardless of their major—in order to earn their degree.

  8. Co-op: A Cooperative Education Program requires students to work in their field of interest as part of earning their degree.

  9. Cost of Attendance (COA): This is the total amount it will cost to attend a school, not just the tuition. The COA includes tuition, fees, housing, a meal plan, textbooks, supplies, equipment, transportation, and miscellaneous expenses.

  10. Educational Opportunity Program (EOP): These programs provide financial and academic support and counseling to first-generation and historically underserved students to help them succeed academically and graduate. In California, all of the Cal States and some of the UCs offer EOPs.

  11. Residential Colleges: Small communities of students and faculty in living/learning communities who generally share meals, academic programming and social events. Residential colleges provide a small, cohesive community for students within a large university setting. In California, UC San Diego and UC Santa Cruz students live in residential colleges.

  12. Rolling admissions: An admissions process used by some colleges in which applications are reviewed when they are received, rather than by a specific deadline. Colleges and universities with this policy make decisions as applications are received until all spaces are filled.

  13. Demonstrated Interest: A student expressing interest in attending a particular college through campus visit, contact with admissions officers, and so on. Many, but not all, schools consider demonstrated interest as a factor in their admissions decisions.

  14. EFC (Expected Family Contribution): The FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid) asks questions about family income, assets, household size, and number of students attending college. Based on those numbers, the government will calculate an EFC, the amount the government has determined that your family can afford to pay for your child's college education each year.


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